Diet blog: Self-help tips that work

Judith Wills / 22 August 2016

Our diet expert on ‘micro solutions’ and the power of tiny changes to win big.

I haven’t actually bought a self-help book since I was in my 30s, when a copy of Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway found its way into my possession, mainly because I’d battled a lifetime full of fear and timidity, and was fascinated by the title.  And to be fair, it worked. 

Shortly after reading it, I wrote my first book, which became a bestseller, left a long-standing editorship to try my luck in the wider world, and became the bossy know-all I am today.  So thanks, Susan Jeffers, you transformed my life.

These days self-improvement books are ubiquitous but I have noticed these past few months that one system in particular has been getting way more publicity and good reveiws in the UK than all the others put together.  It proposes that the way to getting what you want – be it managing your temper, or laziness, or transforming your fitness levels or weight – is to use ‘microresolutions’.  Tiny changes in your behaviour and decisions will lead to the bigger changes you want but have so far failed to achieve.

The method has worked for very many people since the book – Small Move, Big Change: using microresolutions to transform your life permanently, by Caroline L. Arnold – was first published in the US in 2014.  And when it comes to weight loss, it seems to be an especially good idea.

Most of us who have ever tried to lose weight know that 95% of the time, we lose some, then put it back on.  And the new year’s fitness regime begins full of energy and enthusiasm and within weeks tails off; it’s back to the sofa and the chocolates all too soon.

So the simple idea that making tiny changes, and also slowly creating new habits (an idea explained in very good detail in a second brilliant book for people like us published last January – Better Than Before: what I learned about making and breaking habits, by Gretchen Rubin) while being not far removed from my permanent mantra of ‘take things slowly, don’t be in a rush’ is actually different enough to make me want to try it. 

Small steps to big health changes

Both Arnold and Rubin give all the detail you need on how to achieve the changes you want.  The best thing is that there’s no horrendous dread that you need to make big changes.  Little decisions about small things can get you there, and get there better and more permanently.

The writer and comedian Viv Groskop recently wrote of how she shed two stones and gained a real liking for exercise following these methods, and for the past few days I’ve been enjoying the immediacy and simplicity of making small moves to help myself eat small portions and avoid snacking.  It works.  If you’ve struggled on other methods, do give either of these books a go.  I’ll let you know how I get on over the weeks, too.

By the way, I noticed in the Saga August issue that Mary Peters was featured, giving her ideas on how best we can keep fit.  “You don’t need to go to the gym to exercise” she said.  Well, of course that is true.  But I am not sure she is totally keeping up with modern life.  Her advice for us is, for example when making lunch, “to use that tin of peas as a weight and do a bit of work on your arms…”  A tin of peas?  Does anyone honestly use tinned peas anymore?  Then she says “when you’re doing the washing up, try a half squat after each plate.”  When you’re doing the washing up?  Over half of us now have a dishwasher.  But she’s right about garden shears – they do give your arms a good workout.  But right now, looking at the jungle that is our garden, I think I might prefer to sit on the rowing machine for a while.

Fitness tips from former Olympians

Easy ways to get fit at home

Ate for lunch

My son Will is in his first season with an allotment and gave us a whole basket of tasty vegetables including several colours of beetroot.  I made them into this salad.  If you didn’t want to use the grilled halloumi you could use crumbled feta or pieces of soft goat’s cheese instead.  The salad is rich in heart-friendly plant chemicals and fibre and needs no bread to accompany it.

Beetroot, Halloumi, Lentil and Chicory Salad

Serves 2-3

  • 3-5 beetroots, depending in size (you want about 400g altogether and small ones are best)
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin cold pressed rapeseed or olive oil
  • Juice of half an orange
  • 2 tsp maple syrup or honey
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp pomegranate molasses (optional, but it adds a great kick)
  • ¼ tsp each salt and black pepper
  • 10 red chicory leaves
  • ½ pack (125g) ready cooked Puy lentils
  • 4-5 red radishes, thinly sliced
  • 4  thin slices halloumi cheese
  • Handful wild rocket


Clean the beets and steam them for 20 minutes or until tender but not overcooked. 

While they cook, make a dressing by thoroughly combining the oil, orange juice, maple syrup, molasses, vinegar, salt and pepper.  Toss the lentils with half the dressing.

Remove the skins from the cooled beets by rubbing them with your fingers and slice. 

Arrange the chicory, lentils, beets and radishes on serving plates.  Grill (or fry in a pan lightly brushed with oil) the cheese until golden on both sides and serve straight away, on the salad with the rest of the dressing sprinkled over and garnished with rocket.

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